Taiko Obon Drummers of Maui

Obon, the Buddhist festival to honor those who have gone before us and welcome their spirits back for a visit in our hearts, has just passed.  In Japan, communities hold (secular) home town festival dances - furusato matsuri.  For  Hawaii and areas where Japanese immigrants settled in the Americas,  it brings bon odori - dances at temples founded by them.

 Maui Taiko is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the art of taiko on Maui.

The dancers at bon odori form concentric ovals or circles around a central stage - the yagura - from which emanates the music and announcements.

The video below is from Maui and focuses on three taiko drummers.  The drummers go to each of Maui's many dances.   I used to know the people drumming, but as I left Maui nine years ago I don't recognize the new guys.   This video was taken at Wailuku Hongwanji, where Pandabonium was a member for many years. The dance is "Nippon Hare Bare Ondo" -  or Japan Joyous Feeling  (or cheerful) Song. At the end of each stanza it goes "sore, odorimashou"... which is  "let's dance".   (I highly recommend that you watch the videos in this post on full screen).

In addition to these drummers, some songs are played by a group called Maui Taiko which was founded in 1996 to keep the tradition alive by teaching taiko drumming to succeeding generations.  They play "Fukushima Ondo" and their founding member, Kay Fukumoto, sings the song live.   They do other performances and Kay Fukumoto has taught Fukushima Ondo to many other taiko groups including Mid-West Buddhist Taiko in Chicago, Denver Taiko, San Jose Taiko, and Las Vegas Kaminari Taiko.

Do visit their webpage Maui Taiko: A Tradition for Generations which has a great video clip about their history - it is the history of Japanese people in Hawaii really.   In 2011, they produced an award winning DVD available in English (close captioned) and one with Japanese subtitles.  Check it out here: Great Grandfathers Drum DVD.

As fun as the festivals are in Japan, there are usually only two or three dances - the local town dance, Tanko bushi (coal miner's song), and perhaps one other.*   The dances in Hawaii and many North American temples,  hold a special charm.  Why?  For one thing because they are held at temples and are preceded by an Obon religious service, whereas in Japan, at least out here in the boonies, they are secular events put on by the city (though people still call them bon odori).   K  - my K, not to be confused with Kay mentioned above - tells me that our local Shingon temple members used to dance when she was growing up.  Perhaps such dances will return in the future.  I hope so, as such things are part of the fabric of local community.) 

Also, the various Buddhist sects on Maui get together and each hosts dancers from all the other sects, so that instead of one bon dance, there are many.  And  since Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii from many parts of Japan, there are many local dances represented.  At Hawaii bon dances one can see, and participate in a lot of different dances.  And the tradition of bon odori is on-going, with new ondo (songs) and dances being devised.  The dance schedule is published in the local newspapers and practice sessions are held.

So, if you have the opportunity, do go to watch and join in.  The dances usually start with the easier ones - Tankobushi (coal miner's song) and Sakura Ondo (cherry blossom song).  So perhaps try those first.  Keep your eyes to the dancers in the center ring, as they are the teachers on whom you can rely to show you how it is done.

On Maui you have one more chance this year: Aug 31 (Sat) Kula Shofukuji Shingon Mission;  Service 6:30pm Dance 7:30pm.   This is a wonderful venue as is on the slopes of Mt. Haleakala offering cooler air and beautiful views of Central Maui.  For information Phone: 808-661-0466
Here's Maui Taiko and Fukushima Ondo at Kula Shofukuji last year:

Odori mashou!

*For the last Furusato Matsuri we attended here in Kashima City, checkout the 2008 post "Kashima City Furusato Matsuri".

1 comment:

Martin J Frid said...

I was told there used to be more Obon dancing here where I live, but they had to quit due to complaints that it was too noisy. Sad, really. What's the point of a good Obon dance if you can't have music and fun? I hope there will be a revival, in fact I'm sure there will be.